Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that studies strategic situations where players choose different actions in an attempt to maximize their returns. First developed as a tool for understanding economic behavior, game theory is now used in many diverse academic fields, ranging from biology to philosophy.

Game theory saw substantial growth and its first formalization by John von Neumann before and during the Cold War, mainly due to its application to military strategy, most notably to the concept of mutual assured destruction. Beginning in the 1970s, game theory has been applied to animal behavior, including species' development by natural selection. Because of interesting games like the prisoner's dilemma, in which mutual self-interest hurts everyone, game theory has been used in political science, ethics and philosophy. Finally, game theory has recently drawn attention from computer scientists because of its use in artificial intelligence and cybernetics.